That the beautiful homes on HBO’s Big Little Lies are, like, metaphors has been pointed out perhaps past the point of nauseum (ad vomitum?). By now it’s gotta seem a little passe and hackneyed to still be talking about it…
But. BUT: I still think it’s important to talk about the beautiful edifices these couples have built, and I want to do so in a way that turns the focus outward, to the ways that the couple’s perfect personae and brands affect others–specifically their closest friends. From there, I want to try to make sense of the little lie that punctuates the big climax of the series finale.
Reviewing the series’ penultimate episode, AV Club’s Gwen Inhat succinctly unpacks the symbolism of the homes of Moneterey’s moneyed and beautiful:
“The beautiful homes on display in Big Little Lies aren’t there by accident: Their perfect facades bely the varying levels of tempestuousness that reside in each.”
Not hard logic to follow, right?
Perry beats Celeste. We, the audience, see that. Then we see Celeste yanking at her sleeves to cover the bruises, or putting on makeup, or telling a therapist her relationship is “passionate,” not abusive. And her cover-ups fool everyone. Perry and Celeste are viewed as the lovey-dovey couple. And on top of that, Madeline leapfrogs all nuance and calls Celeste’s life “perfect.”
Her beautiful home serves the same purpose as the makeup. It keeps up the facade, and it keeps the secret safe with Celeste.
But other people invariably get involved. The most important moment of the show, I would argue, comes in the sixth episode, after Celeste has broken Perry’s urethra with a tennis racket — if you know what I mean… (Kidding — that’s not a euphemism. It literally happened.)
The story, as Celeste chooses to spin it to Madeline, is that said urethra was broken as a result of wild love-making. This story — this obviously (to the audience) fallacious facade — then becomes the catalyst for a breakdown between Ed and Madeline. Ed can’t even fathom the passion that it would take to break a urethra. And he can’t imagine Madeline ever desiring him that much. And all this because of a lie!
Humans are comparison-obsessed beings, and Ed is unknowingly comparing himself and his relationship to a bold-faced line — and feeling inadequate for it.
In Monterey, everyone has problems. But no one ever talks about them, so everyone thinks everyone else’s life is grand. They hide behind beautiful homes and domestic bliss steeped in denial. And then they all feel like shit because of these comparisons.
(Of note, of course, is Jane, who is open and honest about her troubles and correspondingly lives in a cramped, messy, and armed home. Her consolations to Madeline in the final episode — “you’re not perfect, join the club” — are platitudinous but in Monterey they seem positively profound and liberating.)
Keeping the negative consequences of our protagonists’ lies and facades in mind, let’s turn to the curious ending.
Like the investigator, we have to wonder why the women will only admit that Perry “fell.” But we know more than the investigator. We know about the facades, and the turmoil hidden behind, and the havoc they wreak on others. Accordingly, my initial assessment was that the women had once again lied to keep up their facades.
Perry will be remembered as a caring and loving husband who tragically and undeservedly met his end in a freak accident. Sure, the other parents will gossip, but legally, on the record, Perry will go down in history as a good man.
And I thought this was terrible. I felt like they were just building up more lies that would cause more pain. Imagine Perry’s sons growing older, and dealing with any sort of personal issue — maybe one is an alcoholic, the other has anger issues, whatever. They think about their father and think why am I such a piece of shit? Why can’t I be like him? Like the perfect husband and father who did no wrong — the image of Perry that will likely survive his gruesome demise.
It would be Use Your Illusion II (granted, the better of the two).
But after some thought, I realized that everyone who needs to know knows. Madeline, Jane, Renata, Bonnie — they know. And when they’re ready, they can explain it to their children. The rest of the people, the Greek chorus of gossips and nosy-Neds, are the ones who will remember Perry as a false illusion.
And who cares about them! Authenticity and honesty are important, but you don’t need to be authentic and honest to everyone. (Am I contradicting my point about the dangers of the inauthenticity-comparison feedback loop? Perhaps, but come on — I’m not always honest.)
A little mystery is nice. We’re social beings, but we’re not that social. You need to be open and honest, but only with your cadre of girlfriends on the beach. Always on the beach.